The legions of genealogists, historians and researchers have been waiting 72 years for April 2, when the National Archives releases the 1940 U.S. Census data. If you just can't wait, the Census Bureau has created a new website offering a fascinating overview of the 1940 Census.
The periodic public release of full decennial census data is a very big deal to genealogists because it contains something essential to their research - names. Under federal confidentiality laws, census data that directly ties names to addresses cannot be made public until 72 years after the census is taken. For example, names gathered in Census 2010 will not be released until April 2, 2082.
The Census Bureau's 1940 Census overview website includes the questions on the 1940 census form, historical facts from 1940, a 1940 Census video and a link to the official National Archives website for looking up individual records from the 1940 Census.
In addition, the Census Bureau offers up the first of three infographics visually depicting how the characteristics of the U.S. population have changed since 1940. For example, the average monthly cost for rent in 1940 was $30.83. In 2010, it was $855.00. In 1940, "agriculture" was reported as the second largest source of employment in the United States. By 2010, "agriculture" didn't even make the top five.
How Helpful Will the 1940 Census Be? The 1940 Census data will include information about 132.2 million Americans living in the 48 states at the time. But as About Guide to Genealogy Kimberly Powell points out, those 132.2 million names will not be arranged in searchable indexes when the data is first released on April 2. "Just millions of digitized pages of names," says Powell, who offers excellent advice on how to actually use the data to actually "Find Granddad in the 1940 U.S. Census."
According to Powell, the records of the 1940 Census will eventually be made available in the form of indexed, searchable lists, through the efforts of a group of dedicated and very patient volunteers taking part in the 1940 US Census Community Project. "A group of volunteer indexers will start indexing these census images the moment they are released to the public to make them more readily accessible to everyone," notes Powell in her Research Guide to the 1940 US Census.
Photo: Popular Science Magazine, April 1940 -- Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images